Osun: Savouring The Fruits Of Innovative Governance

As South-Western Nigerian leaders of thought, policy implementors and technocrats converge at the ancient city of Abeokuta for the Southwest governance innovations summit, I am moved to recall two past incidents; the one, a historic meeting which started at about 6pm and rounded up just before 6am sometime in December 2010.

The venue was the “situation room” at the Bourdillion Road, Ikoyi residence of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. A new Governor had just been sworn in, a week prior, after three and half years of protracted litigation to regain a misappropriated mandate. That Governor is Rauf Aregbesola.

The purpose of the meeting was to share thoughts with the core leadership of the then Action Congress and a handful of key elements who served in the Lagos cabinet when Asiwaju Tinubu held sway as the Chief Executive, on the policy thrusts and the direction in which the new government in Osun was going to drive the implementation of its electoral promises. Seated at the long table were the party chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, the National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, and, as I recall vividly, also present were Prof Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, Yemi Cardoso, Dele Alake, Leke Pitan, Dr. Charles Diji Akinola, the Osun Deputy Governor, Mrs Titilayo Laoye- Tomori , this writer, and a couple of other associates from Osun.

At this meeting, those of us close associates of the new governor who were key architects of the Osun renewal took turns to unfold the vision and invited those with cognate experience to critique our game plan and how we were going to execute the “PACT” of Rauf Aregbesola with the people of Osun. The conversations were robust, and centred around the narrative of “Government unusual.” This new governor was going to demystify the office and get really down to the task of serving. Key radical reforms were going to be put in place in vital areas of massive food production, roads, infrastructure, functional education, youth empowerment, communal security, affordable healthcare delivery, restoring the status of Osogbo as a vital commercial hub, and engendering socio- economic inclusion.

During the course of the night, we addressed the issue of the declining economic fortunes of the country insofar as it continued to rely only on oil as its main revenue base, and came to the conclusion that something drastic had to be done to address the humongous cost of governance occasioned largely by an over bloated bureaucracy, as it was not sustainable. We told the audience that our principal was going to make a stab at pruning down the number of MDAs and collapsing them into efficient and manageable units with appropriate nomenclature.

Recalling the glorious days of the old West with nostalgia, the necessity to harness individual strategic strengths of the sub-region’s components was not lost on anybody around that long table. We therefore agreed that impetus was to be given to the on-going endeavour efforts to institutionalize the peer review mechanism that would allow the weak to benefit from the experience of the strong through cross border replication of success stories with a view to better the lot of our peoples and create sustainable even development.

One key point that stood out is Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola’s declaration that there was going to be a Ministry of Regional Integration and Special duties that would institutionalise the interface with other states in the region and that other Governors in the South West were to be encouraged to establish similar structure in their respective states.

The other incident; sometime in 2011, I had a one-on-one discussion with a Southwest governor in his private study which, again, drew far into the night during which the Governor lamented with regret: “ Papa Awo (Chief Obafemi Awolowo) had no business trying to rule at the centre.”

According to him, he had it very well made and the old West was notches ahead of the pack at a pace which, if sustained, would have engendered unprecedented growth and development. The forays into national politics, in his view, truncated the rapid economic growth of our people. I couldn’t agree with him more. Six years on, current trends in the polity has reinforced my conviction that this error has now become a conundrum which the Southwest must quickly disembark from.

Although the “error” seemed an unending dialogue, akin only to the conversations on Nigeria’s proverbial “potentials” , yet some people were not going to just sit down and moan.

Not surprisingly, a community of interests and tendencies had arisen, working tenaciously parallel to the self-determination, restructuring and diverse agendas, to ensure that the economic emancipation and therefore the developmental growth agenda of the South-west was to be rigorously pursued. And how better to do this than to create a United common platform for the actualization of the noble task of reversing the diminished opportunities of the South-west for advancement and developmental growth.

It soon began to dawn (pun intended) on Yoruba thinkers that the future portends grave danger for any component of our federation tying its economic fortunes to handouts from the centre which, itself depends on a failing international commodity.

It was time to be creative and innovative. And those elements eventually found a round peg for this round hole, in the person of Oladipo Famakinwa. A new platform was formally launched and called Development Agenda for Western Nigeria.( DAWN) with this dynamic young man as the first Director General. This is not an attempt to rewrite the DAWN story. Indeed it has been, and continues to be written by the appropriate authority through the plethora of initiatives and activities it has undertaken so far in pursuance of its mandate either suo motu, or in collaboration with other agencies.

Perhaps, one Governor who personified innovation in governance is Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola. He hit the ground running in 2010 and in a matter of days he embarked on the rebranding project which saw Osun having an Armorial bearing (a replica of the Old Western Nigeria coat of Arms), a state anthem, flag, the components of which, when interpreted, speak to the struggle, rich historical, socio-economic and cultural heritage of Yorubaland. Then of course was the flagship Osun Youth Employment Scheme (OYES), through which the governor had promised 20,000 jobs in the first 100 days – a promise that was actually delivered in 97 days!

What followed was a comprehensive package of radical reforms in the Education sector; notably, the introduction of the Educational Learning Aid (Opon Imo), an unprecedented schools infrastructure project, and, perhaps, the largest volume of road construction projects ever embarked upon by any government in Nigeria. But he didn’t stop there. He wanted an OMBUDSMAN and due process office that would put all policy implementers on their toes, in order to achieve maximum delivery.

And this brings to mind the remarks of Ban Ki- Moon, the then UN Secretary General in his remarks to the Council on Timor- Leste on December 19 2009:

“…as we all know, infrastructure is not just a matter of roads, schools and power grids. It is equally a question of strengthening democratic governance and the rule of law. Without accountability, not only of the government to its people but of the people to each other, there is no hope for a viable democratic state. .”

This statement aptly describes the mission of the Bureau of Social Services (BOSS). Having been involved in the design, incubation and execution of this pioneering initiative, I am moved to congratulate Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola for the success stories that Osun has brought to the table during the just concluded Southwest Governance Innovation Summit 2017.

Ogbeni’s reforms in good governance through radical interventions are too numerous to be mentioned here, but permit me to single out three particular polices reforms which have been selected by DAWN and deemed worthy of replication by other states. The first is the Agricultural Land Holding and Development Authority Bill, which, though yet to be passed by the State of Osun House of Assembly, however,the Executive Order has has been signed by the Governor in order to meet current exigencies. This Law is designed to mitigate hardships occasioned by the Land Use Act militating against agricultural land ownership by small holder farmers and cooperatives.

The second is (O-Meal) the elementary School Lunch programme which received high acclaim and concerning which the governor had course to address a session before a committee of the British House of Commons.

The third one is the establishment of the Bureau of Social Services (BOSS), an OMBUDSMAN agency with overarching powers to ensure accountability and public value delivery across the parameters of Programs, Policies, and Projects.

Innovation has thousands of differently documented definitions. There are diverse interdisciplinary perspectives to defining this word the simplest of which is to be found in WIKKIPEDIA: ”innovation is a new idea, device, or method”. In the domain of practical economic analysis, and I daresay, governance, innovation can generally be considered to be the result of a process that brings together novel ideals in a way that they affect society. (Still quoting Wikkipedia), innovation drives idea to value. Creativity is the capacity to generate novel and pragmatic ideas, but unless applied, it remains just an idea.

Innovation therefore can safely, in my view, be described as Applied Creativity.

What Ogbeni has done in Osun is not only to bring creativity to designing his ‘government unusual’, but also to apply that creativity in the delivery of public value. It certainly gives one a sense of pride to be part of that effort.

Ifaturoti is the Director General, Bureau of Social Services, Osun State.